Saturday, November 19, 2005

Kansas' definition of science sparks debate

I am trialing inserting my comments bolded and in square brackets after each point that I comment on within an article, to make my posts easier to read. I am also going to trial having a lesser number of articles, including only one, as here:

Kansas' definition of science sparks debate: Critics worry that new standards could open door wider to creationists, MSNBC, John Hanna, Nov. 14, 2005 ... TOPEKA, Kan. - With Kansas facing international scrutiny over new public-school science standards that challenge evolution, one key change is easy to miss. In the introduction of the 111-page document, a new, longer definition of science replaces one that said, "Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." The new one talks about observing, measuring and testing hypotheses, but it doesn't say whether the explanations will be "natural." That fact is key to critics who believe the standards attempt to inject religion into science courses, as well as supporters who believe discourse will be unfettered. But the change is so subtle that it can seem not worth fighting over, which favors the intelligent-design advocates who helped draft the new standards. [This clause in the new Kansas science standards does not favor ID, it just removes the previous begging-of-the-question in favor of naturalism, creating a neutral, level playing field, favoring no position.] "It's bloody brilliant - there's no doubt about it," said Denis Lamoureux, professor of science and religion at the University of Alberta in Canada. [I debated Lamoureux on the Calvin Reflector a decade ago and from that experience, I personally do not regard him as a Christian (see below), but as a type of Gnostic:

"These Gnostic tendencies remain with us today. Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, for example ... Gould explains how we are supposed to understand this new Gnosticism, and he has invented an acronym for his principle: NOMA, or `non-overlapping magisteria.' I do not see,' Gould writes, `how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis.' [Gould S.J., "Rocks of Ages," 1999, p.4]. Gould is not the only contemporary evolutionist with Gnostic sympathies. Niles Eldredge takes the position that `religion and science are two utterly different domains of human experience,' [Eldredge N., "The Monkey Business, 1982, p.10] and Bruce Alberts, writing for the National Academy of Sciences, says, `Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Indeed, many scientists are deeply religious. But science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each.' [Alberts B., "Science and Creationism," National Academy of Sciences, Second edition, 1999, p.ix] These are just a few among many examples of modern Gnosticism within evolutionary thought. Where did Alberts learn that combining science and religion detracts from the glory of each? Certainly not from a scientific experiment. God is assumed to be disjoint from creation so that any attempt to force-fit them is bound to be awkward. Or again, how is it that God could create the universe but have nothing to do with science? The answer of course is that God did not create the world, at least not directly- the world evolved. The historian's assessment of Gnosticism could just as easily apply to evolution: `The cardinal feature of gnostic thought is the radical dualism that governs the relation of God and world.... The deity is absolutely transmundane, its nature alien to that of the universe which it neither created nor governs and to which it is the complete antithesis.... The world is the work of lowly powers. [Jonas H., in Lee P.J., "Against the Protestant Gnostics," 1987, p.16]. The Gnostic's hope in `lowly powers' was fulfilled in evolution's natural selection." (Hunter C.G., "Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil," Brazos Press: Grand Rapids MI, 2001, pp.149-150).]
The new standards won't govern what is actually taught about evolution and other science in classrooms, because those decisions are left to the state's 300 local school boards. The standards will merely decide what goes on the tests for students that measure how well schools teach science. One Department of Education official predicted only a few questions, if any, will be affected. Also, the first tests under the new standards won't be given until 2008, and then only to a quarter of the state's 445,000 students. But critics say the standards could encourage creationist pressure in local communities. `Good science' or `divine interventions'? Supporters believe they could protect teachers who want to broach topics like intelligent design, which says an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some complex and orderly features of the natural world. [This is a better definition of ID than most. It would help if the ID movement came up with an agreed upon succinct definition of ID. My suggestion is: "Intelligent Design is the scientific theory that there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature."] That makes the state's new definition of science important. It says: "Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena." "That's what science is about," said Board Chairman Steve Abrams, who supported the new standards. "This is about what's good science." What are the backers of the standards attacking? John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network, said the attack focuses on the idea that "you're just a collection of particles that have come together by chance and by natural selection." The new definition allows scientists to pursue ideas that seem unscientific but might turn out to be correct, said Jonathan Wells, of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that backs intelligent-design research. For example, he said, Isaac Newton's statements about gravity in the 17th century struck some of his contemporaries as mystical. "It doesn't tell you what sort of answers you need to find," Wells said of the new definition. "It's open-ended." [According to the Discovery Institute, "the standard now in place in Kansas realigns the state with all other states in the nation that define science in their standards":
"The only other state in the U.S. that explicitly limits science to naturalistic explanations is Massachusetts. In the Massachusetts science standards, however, this limitation comes at the end of a detailed description of the scientific enterprise that begins by defining science more generally as "attempts to give good accounts of the patterns in nature." Only Kansas currently defines science primarily as "seeking natural explanations." As the comprehensive survey attached below shows, the Minority's proposed revision would bring the Kansas science standards back into the mainstream of the U.S. science education community." (Wells J., "Definitions of State Science Standards," Discovery Institute, November 10, 2005)]
Lamoureux acknowledges he has some empathy for intelligent-design advocates, describing himself as a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he doesn't see intelligent design as science, and he's working on a book that he hopes will help fellow Christians reconcile their faith with evolution. As for Kansas' new definition, he said it promotes the idea that gaps in scientific knowledge are explained by God's involvement - a goal that will be obvious to scientists, he said. "They have opened the door for divine interventions," he said in a telephone interview. "It's not fooling any of us." [In my experience Lamoureux has no "empathy for intelligent-design" nor for its "advocates." His lack of empathy (to put it mildly!) for ID is driven by his hostility to "divine interventions" which he just assumes don't exist - as revealed in his "God-of-the-gaps" argument, i.e. "once natural processes are discovered ...", "God's purported intervention is lost to the advancing light of scientific research", and "A serious consequence of filling these gaps (once believed to be the sites of God's active hand)" (my emphasis):
"Johnson and the design theorists, however, introduce a unique twist to the notion of design. For them, design carries an aspect of irreducible complexity. That is, they assert that certain biological structures are fashioned in such a way that it was not possible for them to develop through a natural process like evolution (whether teleological or dysteleological). To account for the existence of these irreducibly complex structures, intervention from outside the normal operation of the universe is claimed to have occurred during the history of life. As a result, the design theorists are progressive creationists. Such a position, however, leaves itself open to criticism for being another version of the God-of- the-gaps. That is, once natural processes are discovered to account for the creation of a once acclaimed irreducibly complex structure, God's purported intervention is lost to the advancing light of scientific research. A serious consequence of filling these gaps (once believed to be the sites of God's active hand) is that God appears to be forced further and further into the dark recesses of our ignorance; and yes, the dangerous notion arises that maybe human ignorance is in effect the 'creator,' a resident only of our minds." (Lamoureux D.O., "Evangelicals Inheriting the Wind: The Phillip E. Johnson Phenomenon," in Johnson P.E. & Lamoureux D.O., "Darwinism Defeated?: The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins," Regent College Publishing: Vancouver, Canada, 1999, p.19)
As Johnson pointed out, "To argue this way is to commit the fallacy of begging the question. ... Such a priori knowledge ... comes only from naturalistic philosophy":
"What exactly did God do (beyond establishing the laws at the beginning of time) and how do we know that he actually did it? Lamoureux meets any attempt to explore that question scientifically with the standard God-of-the-gaps objection, the trademark thought-stopper of the theistic naturalist. Assigning God a detectable role in evolution is a fallacy, according to theistic naturalists, because science will eventually produce a naturalistic explanation for whatever God is supposed to have done. To put the same point another way, all statements about God's work in creation must be unfalsifiable, because otherwise they will surely be falsified. For example, consider how Lamoureux dismisses the problem of irreducible complexity. A biological system is irreducibly complex when its operation requires the cooperation of numerous parts, none of which performs a useful function unless all are present. Such a system cannot be built up one part at a time-unless some purposeful entity is guiding the process. An unintelligent mechanism like natural selection could not create and preserve a presently useless part because of some long-term goal, but a creator with a goal in mind might do so. Recognition of irreducible complexity thus implies a role for a designer, meaning at a minimum some entity capable of pursuing a distant goal. Lamoureux rules out the possibility of irreducible complexity without considering the scientific evidence. Why? He says that to consider the need for intelligent causes in biology is merely to place a hypothetical God in the gaps of present scientific knowledge. When those gaps are eventually filled with explanations employing only unintelligent causes, as Lamoureux assumes they inevitably will be, God will be expelled from the gaps and theism will be discredited. To argue this way is to commit the fallacy of begging the question. The adequacy of any naturalistic explanation for irreducible complexity is the very point at issue. Like other theistic naturalists, Lamoureux seems to think he has a priori knowledge that naturalistic processes, employing only unintelligent causes, were capable of doing all the work of creating biological systems that are far more complicated than spaceships or computers. Such a priori knowledge does not come from experimental science or fossil studies; it comes only from naturalistic philosophy." (Johnson P.E., "Response to Denis O. Lamoureux," in Johnson P.E. & Lamoureux D.O., "Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins," Regent College Publishing: Vancouver BC, Canada, 1999, pp.50-51).
Lamoureux misperceives ID as secretly holding (e.g. "It's not fooling any of us") "divine interventions" even though ID itself does not make any claims for "divine interventions"!] Creationism or not? Intelligent-design advocates object to being called creationists, saying the label is commonly understood to mean people who accept the Biblical account of creation literally. But their critics say they've only repackaged old creationist ideas that the U.S. Supreme Court banned from public schools for promoting a narrow religious view. [Again it is false to claim that ID is "Creationism," because ID says nothing about the Bible but is based solely on the evidence for design in nature.] And many scientists and advocacy groups are on guard for signs of policies that encroach on the separation of church and state. They see Kansas' new definition of science as suspect. "This is not just sticking your toe into the water," said Joel Kaplan, president of B'nai B'rith International in Washington. "This is hurling your entire body into the water. No good can come from it." [How is adopting a neutral definition of "science", "hurling your entire body into the water? And it depends on whether one values as "good" the original definition of "science" as "following the evidence wherever it leads" or the modern definition of "science" as always seeking a naturalistic explanation, irrespective of the evidence:
"There are two definitions of science at work in the scientific culture, and a concealed contradiction between them is beginning to come out into public view. On the one hand, science is dedicated to empirical evidence and to following that evidence wherever it leads. That is why science had to be free of the Bible, because the Bible was seen to constrain the possibilities scientists were allowed to consider. On the other hand, science also means `applied materialist philosophy.' Scientists who are materialists always look for strictly materialist explanations or every phenomenon, and they want to believe that such explanations always exist." (Johnson P.E., "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1997, p.80)]
But if the new definition promotes religion, it's not obvious from the text. "It's extraordinarily sophisticated," said board member Bill Wagnon, who opposed the new standards. "It's a very clever approach."... [Well, whether it is "extraordinarily sophisticated", or "a very clever approach", the fact is that "it's not obvious from the text" that "the new definition promotes religion". So what is the problem of all these separation of church and State proponents? One would think they should be applauding this Kansas standard. That they don't, shows that their real agenda is pushing their naturalistic `religion' under the guise of a concern for the separation of church and State!]

PS: See tagline quote for my next installment of Paley's design argument.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"Nor would it, I apprehend, weaken the conclusion, that we had never seen a watch made; that we had never known an artist capable of making one; that we were altogether incapable of executing such a piece of workmanship ourselves, or of understanding in what manner it was performed; all this being no more than what is true of some exquisite remains of ancient art, of some lost arts, and to the generality of mankind, of the more curious productions: of modern manufacture. Does one man in a million know how oval frames are turned? Ignorance of this kind exalts our opinion of the unseen and unknown artist's skill, if he be unseen and unknown, but raises no doubt in our minds of the existence and agency of such an artist, at some former time, and in some place or other. Nor can I perceive that it varies at all the inference, whether the question arise [sic] concerning a human agent, or concerning an agent of a different species, or an agent possessing, in some respects, a different nature." (Paley W., "Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature," [1802], St. Thomas Press: Houston, TX, 1972, reprint, p.3)

No comments: